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5 Great Analogies for Training Baseball Players

Written on August 6, 2014 at 8:49 pm, by Eric Cressey

In their outstanding book, Made to Stick, authors Chip and Dan Heath emphasize that a new idea will always be more readily accepted if it is incorporated into an individual’s existing schema. In an example I've used before here at EricCressey.com, if I give you the letters TICDGFASOH and then ask you to list all the letters I included to me 20 minutes later without writing them down, most of you won’t be able to accomplish the task correctly.

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However, if I reordered those letters as CATDOGFISH, you’d accomplish the task easily. You know the words DOG, CAT, and FISH – so it would fit into your existing schema. I work to apply this same logic to how I educate my baseball players. With that in mind, here are five analogies I like to use as part of the long-term baseball development process.

1. Arm care is just like making bank deposits and withdrawals.

To me, every action you make with your arm either takes you closer to or further away from arm health.  Every time you do your arm care drills, get in a strength training session, do some soft tissue work, or get your arm stretched out (when appropriate), you're making a deposit in your bank account. Each time you make a throw - especially off a mound - you're making a withdrawal. If withdrawals exceed deposits over the course of a year, you're likely going to go bankrupt (get injured).

2. Bad scapular positioning or scapulohumeral rhythm is like starting behind the starting line - or you're backpedaling when the starting gun fires.

I've discussed the importance of scapular positioning and scapulohumeral rhythmic for throwers in the past - especially in our new resource, Functional Stability Training of the Upper Body. Here's a video to bring you up to speed:

In this video, I talk about "ball and socket congruency." In other words, the ball can't ride up, and the socket can't stay too low. I like to refer to neutral scapular resting position as the starting line. If you sit in too much downward rotation, you're effectively setting up behind the starting line. In the photo below, the black line is where the medial border of his scapula should be at rest, and the red line is where it actually is.

ScapularDownwardRotation

Other folks may actually start in the correct position, but begin what should be upward rotation with an aberrant movement - such as a "yank" toward the midline (rhomboid dominance) or into scapular depression (lat dominance). These are the exact opposites of what you want to occur - which is upward rotation, or running toward the finish line.

3. Doing arm care drills with a faulty core recruitment pattern is like shooting a cannon from a canoe.

I always talk about how the spine and rib cage "deliver" the shoulder blade. You can do all the arm care drills in the world, but if you don't know how to keep a stable core in place, you'll never really put your shoulder girdle (or elbow, for that matter) in an ideal position to throw - and you certainly won't effectively transfer force from your lower body. Here's what a lot of athletes look like with their overhead reaching pattern:

Instead of getting good shoulder flexion and scapular upward rotation, they just go into lumbar (lower back) extension. When you see an aberrant movement pattern like this, you realize that it's no surprise that some of the same underlying movement inefficiencies can contribute to upper extremity, core, and lower extremity injuries alike. It's really just a matter of where an athlete breaks down first.

4. Committing to a college really early is like proposing to the first girl you ever date - and then letting her "shop around" for other dudes while you stay faithful.

This observation has less to do with the actual training process, but more to do with long-term management of an athlete. Why in the world does a freshman in high school need to be verbally committing to a college - especially when he can't sign on the dotted line to officially commit until his senior year? If there's one thing I've learned in life, it's that we always look back on what we did 2-3 years earlier and laugh, as we realize how misdirected we were. I do it at age 33, and you can just imagine how much faster an impressionable teenage athlete can acquire new views on the world.

It's fine to take your time and see what's out there - and any coach that pressures a freshman or sophomore to commit so young is probably not a person for whom you'd like to play. And, 99% of the time, that offer is still going to be on the table 6-18 months down the road in spite of the false deadlines they throw on you.

Finally, as an "in the know" friend reminded me the other day, don't forget that even if you verbally commit to a school, they're still out there trying to "date" other athletes. If they can find someone who they think is a better prospect than you are, they'll drop you like yesterday's newspaper. The ethical coaches don't do this, but it is nonetheless still a sad part of college sports. With that in mind, it's okay to go on "dates" with different schools and take your time in finding the one that's right for you.

Side note: if you're looking to be a more informed consumer with respect to the college recruiting process, give this a read: 25 Questions to Ask During the College Recruiting Process.

5. Stretching a loose shoulder is like picking a scab; it feels good for a bit, but only makes things uglier over the long haul.

There are a lot of hypermobile (lose-jointed) pitchers out there. It's often a big part of what makes them successful, but it comes at a cost: increased injury risk, if they don't stay on top of their stability training.

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What they often lose sight of, though, is the fact that it's just as important to avoid creating instability as it is to train for stability. In other words, continually stretching a hypermobile joint is likely even worse than just leaving out your strength work. The former reduces passive stability, whereas the latter just doesn't improve active stability.

The problem is that a lot of loose-jointed players feel "tight" - and it's usually because they lay down trigger points to make up for their lack of stability. The stretching feels good in the short term, but the trigger point comes back stronger and stronger each time - until you're eventually dealing with a torn anterior (shoulder) capsule or ulnar collateral ligament. Eventually, reducing the passive stability leads to a pathology - just like picking that scab eventually leads to an infection or scar.

Want to learn more about whether or not you're hypermobile? Check out my article, Assessments You Might Be Overlooking: Installment 1.

Looking to pick up more analogies we use to educate our players - and get a better feel for our overall system? I'd encourage you to sign up for one of our upcoming Elite Baseball Mentorships. We have events in both October and November, and you won't find a more intensive baseball educational course.

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  • morgan

    That first video is gold. Thanks eric.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Thanks, Morgan!

  • Michael Richards

    I often use “Stretching a ‘loose jointed’ person is like trying to fix a droopy ear lobe by hanging a 5 pound dumbbell from it. ”

    I love this one EC

    Mike

  • Eric Lagoy

    Building off Morgan’s comment, hearing specific landmarks used during assessment and gross observations of typical angles of rotation really helps make this applicable in the clinic. Thanks. I’m going to have to get functional stabiltiy training for the upper extermity ASAP.

  • Jerome

    A video on some fixes/exercises/drills for #3 would be cool to see. Thanks Eric!

  • Ron

    Eric, let’s say a pitcher doesn’t have these problems(bad ball and socket congruency, scapular depression, lordosis, flaring rib cage, weak core, etc.) and they have stability in all the right places.
    How much stability or strength in the front squat deadlift etc. is too much for a pitcher. When is a “pitcher” declared relatively not weak in these exercises, and how do we convert that to throwing velocity? (Medicine ball throws, sprints, heidens)Can a pitcher become slower if they spend too much time on the absolute strength side of the continuum? I thought you couldn’t train strength and speed at the same time to make progress in one?

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Jerome,

    Already wrote it! Check this out: http://www.ericcressey.com/train-overhead

  • James M

    First video is excellent, thank you for that. It really helps give a better illustration of the effect of scapular position/stability on the shoulder.

    A lot of people stress this notion of stability in the back, but fail to realize or explain how crucial it is to the overall picture; instead following up with treating the symptoms of things like biceps tendinopathies, labral issues, impingement, bursitis, etc etc etc as opposed to this root issue.

    Thanks again.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Ron,

    I can count on one hand the number of pitchers I’ve seen who are “strong enough.” You can definitely build both strength and speed at the same time.

  • Joe Y

    Great Post again EC. Thanks for sharing.

  • Billy

    Eric,
    My son is a hypermobile person. He is 23 year old pitcher. Sometimes he says he “feels a little tight” in the shoulder. Has had a SLAP repair for posterior shoulder pain when 19 years old. For the most part he does very light stretching (genie stretch, and arm behind back like being arrested position) post throwing. Lots of stability work too for arm care and warmup using shoulder tube and rhythmic stabilizations. Lately has been complaining of bicep pain. What do you suggest it can be. He has good t-spine extension as well. Maybe just inflammation? Any suggestions? Stop stretching? Thanks you

  • Stan M

    Eric,
    In regards to the point about stretching pitchers. What do you think about this stretch: http://youtu.be/Kvh2b4314Ic , where you stretch the inferior capsule.Is this a good stretch for pitchers? I am pretty loose jointed as it is and do regular stabilization and tissue work.

  • http://www.michaelshawnmajeed.com/ Michael Majeed

    Hahaha, I loved the first analogy and think it’s very true. It’s important to make sure that you keep a look at for these withdrawals and deposits in order to ensure that a person can hit their maximum potential.

  • Andre’

    Eric-
    Love these analogies. You definitely can build both strength and speed at the same time and they should be done in concert with each other. I have seen this first hand in your programs with my son and daughter. Great Post!

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Stan,

    Maybe good only for the tightest pitchers. Wouldn’t use it for the loose jointed guys, though.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Billy,

    In my eyes, most of the time, biceps tendon irritation is a secondary issue – meaning that it comes about because of cuff weakness, poor scapular control, or another problem. The biceps works overtime as an anterior and superior stabilizers of the glenohumeral joint. Can also definitely be a mechanical issue.

    That said, I’d encourage you to find someone to evaluate him in person to give a more definitive answer.


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Individualizing the Management of
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